I have written before about the leadership lessons training my dogs in agility and stock/herding teaches me. Here is a new one (although I must give credit to my colleague Leigh Bailey for the idea!).
There are times when I am struggling through a training problem during which I think about sending my dog to a trainer. Professionals are much better at the training, after all. They are experts who have been training dogs for 30 years! I’ll pay for it. I’ll even watch them training, and when my dog is trained, I’ll take her back and she’ll be great!
That model exists, and for some dogs, and for some activities, it can work. But, for the average person-dog family, it just doesn’t work. When the dog goes back home, even with good intentions, the owner just can’t get the dog to do what it did with the other trainer! There was so much progress…what gives?
Well, Leigh and I noticed that some organizations approach leadership development this same way. They are very supportive of their employee receiving leadership development and coaching. They are willing to make the financial investment, and then expect that things will change for the better. And, they often do. Yep, we are that good! 😊
Yet, we notice that unless the leader of the person we are working with invests their time and effort directly in that employee, lessons learned with us may not transfer so well. And, depending on what else is going on in the workplace/unit/division, when the employee “returns” to their home environment, it may actually work against the employee who is trying to lead differently. What gives?
Every workplace is a social system. Everyone in that system is impacting in some way, everyone else—physically, socially and psychologically. The impact can be positive, neutral, or, unfortunately, negative. I think a corporate myth exists that the best people are so independent, tough, and/or talented that they single-handedly can overcome the impacts of the system to persevere and succeed despite it. Yes, it’s a myth. Humans are social animals and are impacted by their social environment in biological, neurological and behavioral ways, whether someone admits it to themselves or is aware of it in themselves or not. The leaders of the people we work with are an integral part of this social system and either increase the likelihood that coaching works or, passively impede it.
So, going back to leadership development and coaching, the leaders we work with are independent, tough and talented and they do make changes in their mindsets and behaviors that allow them to be more successful in their work. They do that partly on their own, with the help of a coach. However, if they go back to a workplace where they do not feel engaged, supported, invested in, and attended to by their leader and/or colleagues, it is hard to maintain the lessons. One reason coaching works is that the supportive and empathic environment coaches create allows individuals to understand themselves in a deeper way and to recognize what stops them from doing what they often know they need to do. And, then, learn new ways to do those things!
Leaders who regularly and proactively ask their employee about their development experiences, support them in the new behavior they are working on, provide them opportunities to use their talents, and demonstrate their appreciation for this effort will see way more changes transferring back to the workplace than those who don’t. Believe me, I understand the plight of executives who are so busy themselves, and believe they got there themselves and that all good people can do the same. I also understand when they believe most of their work is done once they’ve invested in a coach for their high potential leader. I have noticed this in my work (and my dog training). If I don’t put in the same work someone else is, the progress isn’t as fast or sustainable.
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I’d be glad to talk with you about how you can better support the growth of your leaders. Give us a call at 763-545-5997 or send me an email.